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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lessons from two European giants’ unity : News Analysis

                                     Shakhawat Liton
 
An unprecedented joint visit by the foreign ministers of France and Germany to Dhaka and the topping off ceremony of the Franco-Germany Embassy in the city has made it evident that their bi-lateral relationship has reached a new height.
This has also set a unique precedent in bilateral relations between sovereign countries in the world.
It is undoubtedly a historic milestone for both the countries. They have been working relentlessly for more than five decades for this under a friendship treaty between them and as members of the European Union.
This will also have far-reaching consequences in the European Union, a political and economic union of 28 countries. France and Germany are major players in the EU.
Their unity now speaks about their strength. But things were not as positive before they got together.
There had been centuries of rivalry between the two countries. During World War II, Germany had kept Paris occupied for four years.
Devastated by World War II, some European politicians had felt the need for developing good relations with others and a mechanism to prevent the recurrence of war.
Of the leaders, Jean Monnet, a French statesman, played a crucial role in reducing the gap between France and Germany and some other European countries as a means to prevent war.
His pragmatic approach “we are not forming coalitions of states, we are uniting men” worked effectively.
He was firm in his conviction that the European nations had to unite in order to survive. “Continue, continue, there is no future for the people of Europe other than in union,” he had repeated constantly.
Jean Monnet and another French statesman Robert Schuman are regarded as the architects of the principle that the best way to start the European bonding process to prevent war was through developing economic ties.
This philosophy was the foundation for establishing the European Coal and Steel Community under the Treaty of Paris signed in 1951. France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg joined the association. The main aim of the association was to ensure peaceful use of steels, a raw material for war industries.
That was just the beginning. Since then their bonds have grown.
The association was transformed into European Union through different stages. Member states have surrendered their sovereignty to some extent to empower the EU.
Now, the laws passed by the European parliament enjoy supremacy over the laws passed by any of its member state in its respective parliament. Similarly, the judgements delivered by the European Court of Justice prevail over the verdicts delivered by top courts of any other member country.
The EU describes itself as a family of democratic European countries, committed to working together for peace and prosperity. The organisation oversees co-operation among its members in diverse areas, including trade, the environment, transport and employment.
Alongside the acceleration in their bonding process in the form of union with other European countries, the French leaders' efforts opened a new era of bi-lateral relation with their rival Germany.
France and West Germany, at that time, signed the Élysée Treaty, a treaty of friendship, on January 22, 1963 at the Élysée Palace in Paris.
The treaty called for consultations between the two countries on all important questions and an effort to come to a common stance. Regular summits between high-level officials were also established since then.
That move paved the way for establishing a new foundation for relations that ended centuries of rivalry between them and that confirmed the rapprochement between the two countries following a history of warfare.
The bilateral relation between them has been growing since then.
In 2004, they celebrated the 40th anniversary of the treaty and announced to build the Franco-German Embassy. The foundation stone was laid on January 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty.
On completion of the construction of the Embassy building, the foreign ministers of France and Germany had flown to Dhaka on Monday in a rare joint visit.  Our foreign minister joined them.
They celebrated the construction of the Franco-German Embassy in Baridhara on Monday evening, beginning a new chapter in diplomacy.
In views of German Foreign Minister Steinmeier:  “It's a new symbol. The building we are inaugurating today symbolizes our unique friendship in unique partnership we will build on to address joint challenges ahead of us.”
Bangladesh should consider itself fortunate to become a part of this history in diplomacy. This development has also brought new opportunity for Bangladesh to take benefits from the two countries by strengthening ties with them. 
The visiting foreign ministers of the two countries also promised to stay alongside Bangladesh in its fight against climate change, and called for joint efforts to stop global warming.
Our government should make efforts to take on the opportunity following their joint visit to Bangladesh in the run-up to the climate conference COP 21 in Paris.
Our foreign ministry officials say both France and Germany have a history of friendly relations with Bangladesh. And both the countries respect Bangladesh's role in facing global challenges such as climate change.
The growth of EU and the present bi-lateral relation between France and Germany have stressed the unity of people to foster economic development and to prevent conflicts. The EU experience proves unity makes difference. Their mantra is unity.
The politicians in Bangladesh and this region should learn from their experiences to build unity among themselves for the sake of the people and also for peace.

Source: The Daily Star, 23 September 2015

Bangladesh-Myanmar relations: Strategic imperatives: Our Correspondent

Part-II
Drug trafficking and drug abuse have emerged as one of the most serious organized crimes in Cox’s Bazaar, causing  incalculable costs on individuals, families, communities, and governments. Drug traffickers are also draining huge amount of money from Bangladesh to Myanmar through Hundi.
Media reports revealed that Myanmar’s businessmen have set up many factories in the Shan Province, near Thailand border, to produce YABA targeting the domestic market of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has already given a list of businessmen to Myanmar about who is involved in the smuggling of narcotics in the Bangladesh Myanmar border. If intelligence reports are to be believed the Nasaka is directly or indirectly involved in this profitable business and for this reason drug traffickers are easily crossing the border. Despite repeated appeals from Bangladesh, they did not take any action to dismantle these factories.
The main strategic objective of Bangladesh is to connect itself with China and other South East Asian countries using the territory of Myanmar. Bangladesh is also interested to boost up its trade with the North Eastern States of India. The geopolitical importance of Bangladesh will remain intact to India, China and other South Asian countries if it can become a bridge between South Asia and the South East Asian Countries.
The recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Monmohan Singh to Myanmar might have slightly uplifted the geopolitical importance of that country. Myanmar has already undertaken three major port projects on the coast, one each in collaboration with India, China and Thailand. The first project is the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (KMMTT) which will be implemented by India revitalizing the abandoned Akyab port, presently known as Sittwe port, in the Rakhine state.
The main objective of India is to connect Mizoram, via the Kaladan River with this port. Further down the coast, also in Rakhine state, is the Kyaukphyu project of China. To the south east of the country in the Tanintharyi Division, Myanmar is building the Dawei port where Thailand as the lead nation for implementation. Under recent agreements with Dr. Monmohan Singh, India will be able to use this port in order to establish direct road connections with Thailand and other South East Asian countries.
India also envisages developing a trilateral highway project between India, Myanmar and Thailand, with a vision of inter-linking the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea. It is a component of the Asian Highway, which is to be compleated by 2016. This trilateral highway project will be constructed in line with the Asian Highway one and two proposed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP).
It is important to note that the construction of the third route via Bangladesh to Myanmar will largely depend on the consent of Myanmar. Bangladesh, therefore, needs to undertake robust diplomacy to get cooperation from Myanmar in order to open this route with an aim to connecting itself with the Asian Highway. Myanmar has emerged as the major competitor of Bangladesh in utilizing the advantage of geo strategic location as it is offering transit facilities to India, China and other south East Asian countries. Thus, with the coming of the Asian Highway, Myanmar will become the point of convergence as well as the linking route between India, China and the South-East Asia as ‘Myanmar has consistently opposed the southern route proposed by Bangladesh as part of Asian Highway for reasons of national security.’
As such, Myanmar has taken aggressive measures to foster economic development by promoting trade and foreign direct investment (FDI), power generation, oil exploration as well as strengthening rail, road, and air connectivity. These activities taken by Myanmar clearly indicate that this country wants to become the hub of business activities in the forthcoming years. ‘Myanmar’s fortunes, as reforms roll on, are likely to rest on how skillfully its leaders, whether military or civilian, can make use of their geography.’
Another significant feature is that Chinese and Indian companies are sometimes jointly working in various sectors of Myanmar. Meanwhile, Indian businesses
have already started participating in major Chinese projects in Myanmar. Punj Lloyd, an Indian Company, is the major subcontractor in the project to build an oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal to Southwestern China.
India’s public companies, OVL and GAIL, have already ensured minority stakes in Myanmar’s offshore hydrocarbon development projects that will supply energy to China. The possibilities of rivalry between India and China on capturing the resources of Myanmar are decreasing at this moment. Realizing the geo-strategic and geo-economic importance of Myanmar, China and India have already ensured their presence in the development process of Myanmar where Bangladesh remains nowhere.
Bangladesh Myanmar relations are now at crossroads. Bangladesh needs to inculcate a sense of trust into the mind of the present government of Myanmar that the longstanding unresolved issues between these two countries would no longer create hindrances in promoting economic prosperity. This economic prosperity will harness mutual benefit for the common people of both the countries. The policy makers in Bangladesh need to address some common areas where both the countries can strengthen their cooperation.
In view of the present situation, Bangladesh should take some concrete steps to boost up ties with Myanmar. These steps include diversification of the export items of Bangladesh targeting the domestic market of Myanmar, establishment of a smooth channel of financial transactions as well as building direct road and air links between the two countries and signing of an inland water transport protocol.
To deepen connectivity between the two countries, Bangladesh can proceed with Myanmar in joint investment to build a hydroelectric project from where electricity could be supplied to Bangladesh. It can also set up a fertilizer plant under a joint investment where Myanmar might supply natural gas. Besides taking bilateral initiatives, Bangladesh should also be active to improve bilateral ties through certain regional and sub-regional forums, such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC), the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum (BCIM).
In her recent visit to Myanmar in December 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed an agreement on the establishment of a Joint Commission for bilateral cooperation between the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and a Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of a Joint Business Council (JBC) between the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).
These steps are important but not enough in view of the present pace of transformation in the regional politics. The main strategic objective of Bangladesh is to connect itself with the Asian Highway through Myanmar.
The success of this will strongly depend on solid bilateral relations based on multifaceted economic and political cooperation between the two countries.
However, the prospect of this relationship depends on how Bangladesh can seize the opportunities to expand its relations with the present government of Myanmar. Bangladesh should learn the lessons from China and India and must undertake a pragmatic approach to foster cooperative efforts and interconnectivity which are considered as catalysts for economic growth and prosperity for the entire region.
                                                                     (concluded)
The writer is Research Associate, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute

Source:  The Independent, 27 August 2015

Bangladesh-Myanmar relations: Strategic imperatives

Ashish Banik
Part-I
Myanmar has been diversifying its foreign orientation in the context of rapidly-changing regional geopolitical dynamics since the military dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) assumed power in November 2010. It has recently seen significant political developments which moved the country from the ‘policy of isolation’ towards a ‘policy of engagement.’
Political developments include the recently enacted bill in parliament allowing citizens to protest peacefully, initiatives to resume dialogues with other political parties, release of political prisoners and the hosting of parliament election on 9 July 2012. As a result, Myanmar, to some extent, has elevated its position in international politics. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed that Myanmar would chair the regional bloc in 2014. These changes have already given an indication that the country wants to realign its foreign policy breaking its long phase of isolation for decades. It also gives an assessment of which direction the country might take in the coming months and years.
Myanmar has witnessed a steady stream of visits by heads of state or government, foreign ministers of many countries of the world. Regional powers and the international community are very keen to realign their relations with Myanmar. In recent times, a ‘scramble for Myanmar’ might begin among the regional and international players to establish dominance over the oil and gas reserves of Myanmar. In light of these developments, this article will particularly focus on the state of bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Myanmar. It will also identify the bottlenecks in developing a new era of relationship with Myanmar delineating an assessment of what Bangladesh could do to set the bilateral ties based on mutual trust and mutual benefit.
Many analysts in Bangladesh used to perceive the foreign policy of Myanmar in light of regional power settings. However, one should understand that the foreign policy of a country is shaped by their respective geopolitical, cultural, domestic and international compulsions. It may be mentioned that the military regime that assumed
power in Myanmar in 1962, in the face of internecine fighting of the ethnic groups, restored the law and order in the entire country by using coercive means. It was also forced to build a strategic partnership
with China to ward off strenuous international pressure of the
western world. This country later moved forward to cement its ties with another regional power,
India after the end of the Cold
War. One can easily understand the trend of the foreign policy of Myanmar from the perspective of regime security.
Bangladesh officially began diplomatic ties with Myanmar on January 13, 1972, the date on which Myanmar recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign state. However, over the last 40 years, the bilateral relations did not realize its full potential despite having a lot of opportunities for strengthening mutual cooperation on many areas. Both the countries have not undertaken any pragmatic approach till date.
One can easily understand this trend of bilateral relationship to look into the nature of transactions between the two countries. A local media report stated that Myanmar had exported over 8.5 million U.S. dollars’ worth of goods to Bangladesh through Maungtaw border point in the fiscal year
2011-12, up about 1.85 million USD from 6.65 million USD in 2010-11. Of the total, Myanmar’s import
from Bangladesh reached 692,000 USD while Myanmar’s export to Bangladesh stood at 7.8 million USD.
Myanmar exports to Bangladesh marine products, beans and pulses, and kitchen crops, while it imports from Bangladesh pharmaceuticals, ceramic, cotton fabric, raw jute, kitchenware and cosmetic. The main reason for the limited transactions was that businessmen of both the countries had been settling their payments for bulk shipments through bank drafts issued by foreign banks to a third country.
In January 2012, the state owned Sonali Bank of Bangladesh and the two other private banks were given permission for opening of Letter of Credit (LCs) facility to Myanmar. The other reason for this minimum interaction was that both the countries have failed to identify the areas from where they could achieve comparative advantage.
Myanmar, closed to the outside world for more than 50 years, showed few distinct patterns of behaviour in developing effective bilateral relations with Bangladesh. These distinct patterns of behaviour included the capitalization of Bangladesh’s geographical vulnerability, the reluctance to enter into meaningful bilateral
relationship, the stubborn attitude and behavior to solve bilateral disputes and more inclination towards India and China to harness benefits. Due to these reasons Bangladesh was discouraged to develop effective bilateral relations with Myanmar.
Although Bangladesh is aware about the potential of its Look-East Policy, it has, to date, failed to achieve anything by pursuing this policy with Myanmar. Despite having a close geographic proximity with Myanmar, there are no air links, no direct road connectivity, and no shipping links between the two countries. Therefore, it is high time to strengthen the economic and political interactions with that country. Bangladesh should understand Myanmar in the context of recent changes which have taken place there and the needs of the common people in that country. Bangladesh must find common issues to foster bilateral relations because cooperation with Myanmar has reached a paramount importance if Bangladesh wants to gain benefit through perusing its Look East Policy.
The Stateless Rohingyas
The Rohingya issue mostly affected the bilateral relationship since they have started entering into Bangladesh from 1978. Though Bangladesh officially accommodates 29,000 Rohingya refugees, different estimates suggest the number of the Myanmarese minorities living in and around Cox’s Bazar ranges between 2.5 and 5 lakh. It is a major concern for Bangladesh that Myanmar is reluctant to accept these persons as their citizens. They are now involved in drug trafficking, land grabbing, deforestation and commit other criminal offenses to lead their lives.
During the 70’s decade, Pakistan based militant organizations particularly Harkatul Jihad, getting financial help from the Middle Eastern countries, recruited some Rohingya refugees to fight against Soviet Union in Afganistan. These militants returned after the end of the Cold War organized three insurgent outfits named the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO) and Arakan Liberation Front (ALF) to launch insurgent operations inside the Rakhaine state of Myanmar. As they were operating from near the Bangladesh Myanmar border areas, Myanmar alleged that within Bangladesh, forces sympathetic to the causes of Rohingya did not oppose the militancy of the latter. They, on the contrary, came forward with arms and materials to help the Rohingyas fight against the security forces of both Myanmar and Bangladesh. However, the Rohingya issue starts affecting the security of both the countries which has become the main barrier in promoting bilateral relations with Myanmar. Policy makers in Myanmar have fear that this insurgency problem might escalate if any direct road link is to be established between the two countries. Bangladesh should undertake a policy of constructive engagement to erase this wrong apprehension from the mind of the policy makers in Myanmar.
The writer is Research Associate, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute

Source:  The Independent, 26 August 2015

STRATEGICALLY SPEAKING: A ransom seeking neighbour!

Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) 

It seems that there was lack of coordination between the Myanmar government and its border police, as evident from the two different news items related to the fate of the BGB soldier abducted by the Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) more than a week ago, emanating from the Myanmar side. Whereas one report had it that Myanmar had tagged a condition, an outrageous one, to the release of Nayek Razzak, as confirmed by the state minister for home, the BGB DG, who was abroad then, stated that Nayek Razzak would be released unconditionally. It appears that Myanmar had not decided for six days on the disposal of the issue and perhaps it wanted to play politics with the matter, as apparent from the fact that it is after six days that the BGP has accepted BGB's request for a flag meeting, for today.
Abducting a member of the border force of a neighbouring country is a hostile act, and if there were any misunderstanding, as we heard our state minister for home say there was, it should not take seven days to clear that unless of course there were ulterior motives behind the abduction. The actions on the part of Myanmar that have followed the incident show that there were. Razzak should have been returned with full honour and with his weapons immediately instead of making him suffer such humiliation.
And Myanmar's reaction following the incident is rather surprising and shoddy to say the least. Not only was the letter and spirit of the guidelines for the management of the border between the two countries violated, the government of Myanmar also acted like a ransom seeker. It had put unacceptable conditions for the return of a person belonging to the border force of a neighbouring country who was abducted by the Myanmar BGP. The condition was that Bangladesh must take back five hundred or so victims of human trafficking, who Myanmar claimed were Bangladeshis, without verifying their nationality. They are part of the 727 rescued by the Myanmar Navy from the Andaman Sea. Trying Razzak was also one of the options that Myanmar was contemplating. 
It is difficult to rationalise actions of agencies of a country governed by a military junta. Just over a year ago, a member of the BGB was killed from BGP firing in Naikhongchhari in CHT in an incident that was precipitated by the Mynmar border security forces. And instead of returning the body, the BGB personnel, who had gone to collect the body, were shot at. 
One fails to understand also why the Myanmar BGP has taken six days to respond positively to BGB's request for a flag meeting. The guidelines for border control should allow for the local commanders to meet at each other's request at very short notice, at least that is what the arrangements should be, if not there now, for better border management between two neighbours. 
We also wonder at the very circumstances of Razzak's abduction. The press release by the BDR Headquarters raises more questions than it answers. According to it, “The BGB soldiers were conducting routine patrol on civil boats. Suddenly, around 5:30am, soldiers of the Myanmar BGP appeared with a boat, opened fire on one of the BGB boats, injuring one soldier. The BGB team also retaliated with gunshots.” Obviously, there was physical contact between them when the two sides locked into a scuffle. And the BGP patrol fled when the second BGB boat approached the scene. But what raises our eyebrow is the following part of the press release which says, “The BGP men then disappeared and took BGB Naik Razzaq and his SMG along with them. The rest of the members of that boat saved them by jumping into the river and swam ashore.”
We take it that the BGP had intruded illegally into our territory since the BGB boats were inside our territory and a scuffle cannot take place unless the two sides are physically upon one another. If the BGP disappeared at the sight of the second BGP patrol boat, how come they managed to abduct BGB Nayek with his weapons while beating retreat? Why did our border guard personnel have to swim ashore when there were not one but two boats on the scene? And what did Nayek Razzak's comrades do to prevent his abduction? And what was the misunderstanding that the state minister for home was referring to?
The BGB has been at the receiving end in the two recent incidents involving the BGP, which necessitates a fresh look at our border security capability. Along with investing the BGB with better equipment, there is need also for better trained manpower. And while diplomacy must be the first and the second and the third line of our defence, we must back it up with a demonstratively credible capacity which will not only be fully capable of safeguarding our border but also competent in protecting those who are engaged in that duty. 
The writer is Editor, Op-Ed and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.

Source: The Daily Star, 25 June 2015